It seems that Washington has a mandate, subsidy, or loan program for every bad idea. Today’s example is military biofuels.
Just this spring, the Defense Department issued another multimillion-dollar set of contracts for firms to develop refineries whose biofuels, in theory, would not be that much more expensive than conventional fuel. However, there are numerous problems with the Pentagon’s biofuels program.
First, biofuels are not so good for the environment. After all the inputs and land-use changes are considered, biofuels often lead to greater greenhouse gas emissions and worse pollution.
Second, they are expensive. Past biofuel contracts have cost the Pentagon from a low of $26 per gallon to over $400 per gallon.
Third, biofuels won’t defund terrorists. It’s worth reviewing the U.S. military’s scale of operations in a global context. World production of petroleum is about 90 million barrels per day. Total Defense Department petroleum consumption is about 360,000 barrels per day, or just four-tenths of 1 percent of the world total. By converting half of U.S. defense consumption to biofuels (and assuming, not entirely legitimately, that biofuels production does not require any petroleum-based energy), we might change world petroleum prices by 1 percent in the long run—not a very big stick for threatening unfriendly oil-funded organizations.
Fourth, biofuels won’t impact energy security. Our own oil production is a better, cheaper source for defense fuel security. In less than three years, the production-level increase in Texas alone is almost four times the total annual Defense Department consumption. The military will get the oil it needs even if we were entirely cut off from foreign sources.
Finally, since biofuels frequently have a lower energy density than petroleum-derived fuels, biofuel convoys to the front line will have to be even longer or more frequent than those transporting conventional fuel, which could increase risk to personnel.
Here’s the military biofuels checklist:
- Protects the environment? No.
- Is more affordable than conventional fuels? No.
- Defunds rogue regimes and terrorist organizations? No.
- Provides a more secure source of transportation fuel? No.
- Reduces the need for fuel convoys through hostile areas? No.
Yet in the upside-down-and-backwards world of Washington, D.C., failing on every criterion means you receive a subsidy.
So what is the appropriate policy? Instead of having the Great Green Fleet push the budget ever further into the big pool of red ink, we should tell the Pentagon, “Not now, not for this.”